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Azeem Rafiq: Former Yorkshire cricketer says backlash he has faced as a racism whistleblower has deterred other victims

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee found there was "deep-seated" racism within the sport and gave the example of the language used in correspondence with the committee and attempts to "discredit" Azeem Rafiq in the media as evidence of a "long and difficult road" ahead

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After a DCMS report found there was 'deep-seated' racism within cricket, Azeem Rafiq says he is encouraged that the committee has taken the issue seriously

Azeem Rafiq says the "atrocious" backlash he has faced as a whistleblower for racism in cricket has deterred many other victims of abuse from coming forward.

The sport was on Friday warned to "clean up its act" on racism or face a cut in government funding, following a report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee.

Rafiq, who in November gave an emotional testimony to the committee about the racist abuse he faced during two stints at Yorkshire beginning in 2008 and ending in 2018, has commended the report.

MP Julian Knight, committee chair, said in the report that attempts to "discredit" Rafiq throughout the process were evidence of the challenges facing the sport.

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DCMS committee chair Julian Knight says an independent regulator could be introduced should the ECB fail to deal with issues within cricket, such as racism towards Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire

Shortly after the November hearing, messages Rafiq had sent in a 2011 exchange on social media containing antisemitic comments were published by The Times. Rafiq apologised to the Jewish community and says he is continuing to improve his "understanding".

While Rafiq accepts the validity of the criticism and scrutiny he faced for those messages, he says there have been "atrocious" and "ridiculous" attempts to smear him.

"The one thing that I want to really pick up on is the antisemitic messages that surfaced, which I'd made when I was younger," Rafiq told Sky Sports News on Friday.

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"It's something I regret massively, I'm angry with myself, but I've apologised to the Jewish community, they've been incredibly kind and I'm spending more time with them to try to bridge that gap in my understanding of the Jewish community.

"But a lot of other things that happened behind the scenes, and they've continued to happen, have been quite atrocious. It's been ridiculous, some of the fabricated lies, some of the attempts to make my life difficult.

"What it has done is deterred a lot of people from coming forward and I feel that's what the system tried to do and it's achieved that. But I do have one message - they can throw anything they want at me, I won't be backing down from this subject.

"I'm not perfect but none of that excuses the abuse that I suffered and a lot of other people have suffered on a daily basis within the game. It shows in the report that there were attempts behind the scenes, I think some of the committee got calls in the last few hours, the night before the hearing, in attempts to discredit me and talk about my character, but as I've said, none of that excuses racism."

'Progress must be organic'

The DCMS select committee report called on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to develop a set of key indicators and provide quarterly updates to the committee on its progress, or else face a cut to government funding.

The report said that "the future public funds for cricket are dependent on continuous, demonstrable progress in getting rid of racism."

This followed the ECB's November publication of a game-wide 12-point plan to tackle discrimination. Its chief executive Tom Harrison described the racism allegations made by Rafiq and other players as an "earthquake" in cricket.

General view of cricket balls at Lord's
Image: In November the ECB published a game-wide 12-point plan to tackle discrimination

The plan includes a review of dressing-room culture, diversity training for all those involved in the sport, a governance review, a drive to remove barriers to playing top-level cricket, localised equality, diversity and inclusion for clubs, counties and government bodies and examining how stadia can be made more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.

Asked what his definition of progress would be, Rafiq said: "I think it's got to be organic.

"It's important that we don't look for knee-jerk, quick reactions, which I see a lot of counties attempting to do, sort of going out there trying to speak to a lot of people and offer them little jobs to try to keep them quiet - that's not the way forward.

"I think we need a lot of education right at the bottom, right at the start - grassroots, and then hopefully organically as the players get more education of each other's cultures, more understanding, that will build respect and as they get older together, hopefully in four-five years' time we'll get to a place where cricket is a welcoming place for everyone."

'Internationals at Headingley will show support for change'

Rafiq has reiterated his backing for Yorkshire's Headingley stadium to be allowed to host international cricket this summer, explaining that change at the club must be supported.

Since the ECB in November suspended Yorkshire from hosting internationals, former chairman Roger Hutton and chief executive Mark Arthur have resigned, while 16 other members of staff have been sacked.

The county's new chair, Lord Patel, warned this week that there will be a "huge financial crisis" for the club if they are not allowed to host a scheduled England men's Test match against New Zealand in June and an ODI against South Africa in July.

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Yorkshire CCC chairman Lord Patel admits it would be catastrophic if Test cricket were not to return to Headingley

"I'm not saying that it needs to come back indefinitely without any review," Rafiq said. "They need to be kept under review, they need to be kept under scrutiny for a good few years and if they fall out of line, take it back off them.

"I think when you're asking people and institutions to change, if they accept that and they're willing to change, I think it's important that we support that instead of making it even harder. Everything I've seen from Lord Patel since he's come in shows me that there's a massive willingness to change, and if there is I think we should support that because ultimately all we've ever wanted is a better and more inclusive game.

"If international cricket is delayed, then I think that will delay that change coming, so I think we should do everything possible to try to support Yorkshire."

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